Ancient Chinese Exercise May Improve Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure
Adopting a regular practice of the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi may benefit those who suffer from type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. It may also help with weight loss and stress reduction.
In a preliminary study from University of Queensland researcher Liu Xin, nearly 50 participants participated in 90 minutes of tai chi classes three times a week. The program was tailored to benefit people with, or at risk for, type 2 diabetes. The movements were specifically designed to exercise the pancreas, which is involved in the regulation of blood sugar. Dr. Liu says, “Like in designing or producing medication, we need to targe the disease specifically. Different movements target different internal organs.”
Those that participated in the study reported a “significant decline” in their blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Although the program did not involve a change in diet, many participants also lost weight. One study volunteer lost 22 pounds over the course of the three-month study.
Tai chi originated in China more than 2000 years ago as a “soft style” martial art. Today it is used as a mind-body practice in complementary and alternative medicine where it is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation.” In 2007, the National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found that 1% of more than 23,300 adults surveyed had used tai chi in the past 12 months.
The practice involves slow, smooth body movements which emphasize a straight spine, abdominal breathing, a natural range of motion, and pushing hands to achieve relaxation of both the body and mind. There are many different styles that have evolved over the years but the five major types of tai chi are the Chen style, the Yang style, the Wu style, the Wu/Hao style, and the Sun style, named after the Chinese family from which it originated.
Additional health benefits for tai chi include an improvement to physical condition, muscle strength, coordination, and flexibility; improvement in balance, particularly in elderly practitioners; relief of pain and stiffness from conditions such as osteoarthritis; and to relieve insomnia. NCCAM has also supported studies that reviewed the effects of tai chi on bone loss in postmenopausal women, cancer survivors, depression in the elderly, fibromyalgia symptoms, chronic heart failure patients and those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Liu hopes to expand his research into a larger trial of 200 people with diabetes, obesity and depression to replicate his results from this smaller study.